Tales of Arise had originally been gearing up for a release in 2020, but due to unforeseen development challenges, it was delayed. Now it’s finally arrived, alongside the added pressure of delivering a problem-free, action-RPG experience that’s befitting of the Tales series; a series celebrating a whopping 25 years of titles since Tales of Phantasia debuted. Tales of Arise also marks the first new instalment on Xbox for over a decade, so hopefully it’s a welcome return. Will Tales of Arise be an engrossing and exciting action-RPG that stands tall within its genre, or is this one tale you can do without?
Well, right off the bat, it’s worth noting that Tales of Arise sets out its stall as a game approachable to long-time players as well as newcomers by being a standalone entry – meaning you don’t have to worry about any other narratives.
The story told here sees the residents of two planets, Dahna and Rena, locked in a bitter feud after the latter trounced the former in a war which took place hundreds of years prior. It’s a bit of a one-sided feud however, with the Renans enslaving the Dahnans upon winning. For the Dahnan population, their lives appear fruitless and worthless as they’re trapped in an endless cycle of oppression. But maybe someone, or a group of people can smash that cycle to pieces…
Step forward the nameless hero, dubbed ‘Iron Mask’, who has no memories, feels no pain and regularly takes punishment in order to protect his fellow Dahnans in the fiery region of Orbus Calaglia. When a rebellious Renan named Shionne stirs up trouble, the local resistance group and Iron Mask cross paths with her. Rather begrudgingly, Shionne and our main protagonist decide to team up in a bid to tear down the oppressive regime. Thus, the uprising begins with freeing the five Dahna regions, which means overthrowing five lords and defeating a cavalcade of Zeugles (vicious beasts engineered by Renans).
To be honest, I’m barely scratching the surface regarding what’s going on in Tales of Arise and I think having an amnesiac at the forefront of proceedings helps to convey everything that unfolds quite naturally; as the player, you’re learning the majority of the lore simultaneously with him. While the overall theme is rather deep and dark, the bonding between characters within your party offers a lighter and more jovial approach. Furthermore, there is much more to the story than is initially obvious and you’ll be intrigued to figure out the reasons behind the oppression as well as the roles the lords play in ensuring it continues.
Different aspects of the tale are presented in a variety of ways too, which works really well. No matter whether it uses the full-blown and high quality anime cutscenes, or the storyboard style using in-game models, your attention is bound to be held. Along the way, as more characters are introduced, you will appreciate the uniqueness of the main and supporting cast – even the baddies. Not only for their eye-catching designs, but also the great vocal performances (available in English and Japanese) which are frequently heard throughout.
So, the premise and the method in which it’s delivered makes for a worthwhile story, but what about the gameplay? Simply put, there’s not much to criticise in all honesty, for Bandai Namco have done a sterling job.
The adventure at hand can be split into two main portions of gameplay: exploration and combat. For the exploration side, it’s about chatting to anyone you stumble upon, searching for treasure chests or resources, and making your way through the five realms of Dahna – and beyond. What’s great is that every realm has its own characteristics, creating very different experiences within each. Despite being fairly open pieces of land to traverse, the realm is usually segmented into relatively small parts and that’s good because you won’t grow tired of these places at all. This means you can acquire materials, pick up any available sub-quests and partake in a handful of battles, before moving on to pastures new.
The sub-quests consist mainly of fetch quests and clearing out an area that’s plagued by a specific type of Zeugle. They aren’t the most complex, nor creative, sub-quests, however they do keep proceedings ticking along and provide a decent source of rewards like Gald (the currency used at vendors) and Skill Points. Other activities include harvesting, weapon/accessory forging, cooking, and farming, but I wouldn’t say these are vital factors in your enjoyment. No, for that rests heavily on the battles, which actually hold up very strongly indeed.
The Zeugles you’ll face frequently appear in many forms, from wolves and boar-like beasts, to statues which come alive and slimy creatures. And then there are the Renan minions bearing swords or guns, plus a ton more. Enemy variety is definitely a prominent feature as you advance further and further into the world of Dahna. Due to some of them being of an elemental nature, different threats are posed and your party has to be ready to adapt.
Conflicts occur when you wander too close to an enemy, or are triggered due to being a story-related encounter. This is where it transitions to the battle sections, which sees you and up to three other members fighting in unison. Although you can only control one character at a time, you can switch as frequently as you wish to. Alternatively, focusing with a single combatant is just as viable due to the usefulness of the AI helpers. There are a selection of preset strategies ready to go; it’s your choice whether the other members are cautious, gungo-ho, or somewhere in-between. It’s a nice change to have AI teammates actually getting involved and doing serious damage to deplete the health bar of any enemies looking for a fight.
Having a wide array of special moves, known as Artes, for each playable character also adds to the enjoyment. It costs a specific amount of AG (Action Gauge) in order to perform Artes, so you can’t spam them too often. Depending upon the character, an Arte could unleash an elemental flurry of sword swipes, blast the opposition with bombs, conjure up orbs, launch a series of strikes, and heal your allies. Chaining these together, alongside the powerful Boost Strikes, can really make the difference when overwhelmed by beasts, or hefty bosses.
Taking on boss-like enemies, especially the lords themselves, is a pure adrenaline rush as you constantly attempt to dodge and counter-attack your way to victory. A few mistakes and the entire squad will be wiped out, which means every moment is utterly chaotic. Learning attack patterns, and burning through your inventory of restoration items to elevate your chances of survival, is the key as well as patience. The satisfaction upon landing that final blow after a slog of a battle is immense and it’s a feeling I can’t recommend enough.
And just to top it off, you can then spend any Skill Points earned from battles on a healthy number of abilities, boosts and new Artes. The way in which the skill system works is slightly confusing at first though and it’s easy to blow your points, before realising there’s a better set of skills later on. It could do with an option to respec at any point, even if it costs your weight in Gald.
One area in which Tales of Arise lets itself down the most however, given that it’s optimised for Xbox Series X|S, is in the visual department; particularly in regards to the environments you’ll venture through. While wandering around, most of the backdrops and settings for the escapades are slightly dated in comparison to other current gen games. Many of the locations seem bland as well, despite fitting the elemental themes for each realm. And that’s a shame because the character design is excellent otherwise, with terrific usage of colours and fascinating costumes.
Ultimately, Tales of Arise nails the pacing and ensures no part of the adventure outstays its welcome. The narrative should certainly capture your attention, with convincing acting and interesting characters littered throughout. During the action-packed battles, the excitement levels are raised and the amount of manoeuvres at your disposal, in tandem with the switching of characters, keeps these sections fresh. It’s a good challenge when it comes down to the combat too and never quite reaches the kind of difficulty that can be off-putting. The way in which the skills work is rather neat, although it’s a tad confusing at first and vital points could be wasted. The graphical elements mentioned above are possibly its only major drawback, which says a lot really.
All in all, Tales of Arise is great at almost everything it attempts, but it does just falls short of having the wow factor and possesses a couple of niggling factors to boot. Nevertheless it’s absolutely worth picking up if you’re after an action-RPG to sink a load of hours into.
You’ll find Tales of Arise present and correct from the Xbox Store